Florida football’s 2011 media day – Muschamp

With the Florida Gators finally beginning 2011 fall practice on Saturday, head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley and dozens of other players met with the media to discuss the upcoming season. The Gators will take the field Saturday but all practices will be closed to both fans and the media.

STAT TO CARE ABOUT: TURNOVER MARGIN

Muschamp made it a point throughout both his media session to explain hat turnover margin is the only statistic that will be a primary focal point for all members of the coaching staff, whether on the offense, defense or special teams.

“The stat I emphasized with our team is turnover margin. Last year, the top 10 teams in turnover margin, six of them played in BCS games,” he said. “The critical factor I try to emphasize with our football team is turnover margin and big play ratio. When you’re dealing in that world, you’re talking about game-changing, field position-changing, vertical field-possession changing momentum in the game. We got to take control of the ball offensively and create what we call a ball hawk defense.”

Asked later if focusing on turnover margin made the team more defensively oriented than Florida football has been historically, Muschamp disagreed. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that. Turnover margin is something that affects both sides,” he noted. “We’ve got to have great ball security offensively, and we’ve got to create some turnovers on defense. On special teams, control the vertical field position. But from my chair, that affects all of us and how we play. It controls the field position; it controls the momentum of the game.”

FOUR TEAM GOALS HEADING INTO THE SEASON

When it comes to what he looks for in not only a successful player but more specifically a leader, Muschamp has those characteristics defined. He believes each represents a goal that the players should individually achieve by the time the season begins.

“We talk about leadership, and we define it to our players as: No. 1 – You got to be a productive player. If you’re not producing and you’re not making plays, it’s hard to be a leader. [No. 2] – You can’t have a bad day. You can’t come, ‘I hope that guy didn’t get hurt.’ So when you come to work, you can’t just say, ‘Well Coach, I just didn’t play good today.’ You got to play well all the time. [No. 3] – You got to positively affect everybody in the organization. [No. 4] – You got to stay humble in what you do. So you can’t be a negative guy that sits in the locker room and complains about how we’re practicing, how hot it is, or what we’re doing offensively or defensively. Stay humble and move forward with the mistakes and don’t make them again.”

INJURY UPDATES

All four of the injured players the Gators were worried about heading into 2011 have been cleared in one way or another. Redshirt freshman running back Mack Brown (broken fibula) will need to be careful with his endurance but is cleared to practice and will be “worked up to speed.” Redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan (wrist) has been cleared for the field as well, but coaches will “make sure that we get out there and he’s ready to roll as far as contact and things are concerned.” Senior tackle William Steinmann (meniscus tear) is cleared for everything but contact (Aug. 15), and redshirt sophomore long snapper Christopher Guido (hernia surgery) will be good to go on Aug. 10.

BUILDING THE OFFENSIVE LINE

Muschamp continues to be worried about depth on three fronts, starting with the offensive line. Florida did not have much of an opportunity to build such depth in the spring as many players were injured and others were just putting their feet in the water for the first time.

“Obviously with the moving parts we had going through spring ball, that’s something we need to gel and we need to gel early,” Muschamp said. “We need to get five guys playing well together. And you’d like to build that number to seven, eight, nine, 10 guys if you can, but build depth on the offensive line of scrimmage.”

Overall, however, he is pleased with the development of the guys he got to see in spring. Muschamp praised redshirt sophomore guard Jon Halapio for his toughness and effort, junior tackle Xavier Nixon for being up to 290 lbs. but remaining athletic with more punch and power, and redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison for his transition from guard to center – “that’s a tough deal to do, do make the calls. We put an awful lot on the center.” He was also excited about redshirt freshman Ian Silberman’s move to guard, and redshirt freshman Chaz Green’s growth at tackle.

BUILDING THE FRONT SEVEN

Just like on offense, Muschamp hopes his defensive line rotation is something that can be solidified by the time fall camp comes to a close. With plenty of depth at defensive tackle including the two veterans – redshirt senior Jaye Howard and redshirt junior Omar Hunter – he said that sophomore Sharrif Floyd will mainly play on the inside but will also see some time at defensive end. Senior DE William Green will primarily play there but also get some time at outside linebacker, too.

Linebacker is another position in which depth is a concern for Muschamp. Aside from junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins, he is looking to fill in the blanks. Helping him do just that might be redshirt freshman Michael Taylor, who stood out to him as a “tough, physical kid” who “understands a little more what we’re asking of him.” Muschamp also noted that redshirt sophomore Dee Finely is progressing from his move from the secondary: “When your position moves closer to the ball, the game happens a lot faster. He’s been a guy that’s shown some flashes and was very productive for us early in spring.”

Obviously sophomore buck LB Ronald Powell will be counted on heavily in the pass rush, but Green and redshirt junior DE Lerentee McCray will also both work on getting to the quarterback. “Lerentee has done some nice things. Willie Green has done some nice things. But, consistently we haven’t seen enough,” Muschamp said. He did, however, have some extra praise for McCray. “Lerentee has got a great motor. He is very passionate about playing at Florida. It’s important to him to be a Gator,” he said. “He’s a guy that can give us some pass rushing plays, plays extremely hard. He’s tough, and he sticks his face in there. He’s a guy that you really appreciate coaching; he’s always up in the meeting rooms to watch film, ask questions. We’re expecting him to have a really good year.”

BRANTLEY AND THE OFFENSE

Asked how well he and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis are meshing together, Muschamp noted the duo shares the same offensive philosophy and have a great working relationship. “We want to be a running football team, have the play actions off of it, but still be able to spread the field and create plays in space for our playmakers,” he said. “I’ve got great confidence where we are and where we’re headed with our offense.”

His confidence, of course, begins with redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley, who he believes should have complete trust in himself considering that Weis has all the faith in the world in regards to his abilities on the field. “He’s got great confidence in John; that should give John great confidence. That ought to give him great confidence as a quarterback, and I think it does,” Muschamp said.

He added there is “no question” that Brantley is the starter and noted that sophomore Tyler Murphy is currently the back up with freshmen Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett fighting for that role. “John is the starter. I say create some separation behind John; we need to find who is our backup quarterback going into the season, how are we going to tailor offense for the backup quarterback. And that’s a decision we need to make as quickly as we can in camp,” Muschamp explained.

FINDING A TRUSTWORTHY SECONDARY

With the Gators losing three veterans in the secondary, Muschamp has placed an emphasis on solidifying the positions, whether that is with older or younger players. “Secondary, I really like our athleticism,” he said. “I like starting with athleticism. I’d rather start with that than experience if I could take one of the two.”

He also shared his thoughts on four players in particular…

Sophomore safety Matt Elam: “Obviously, he plays safety and nickel, but he’s a guy who’s shown some play-making abilities. If you look at a defensive back and you look at critical factors of being able to play in space, that means you’ve got to be able to tackle and cover them, have physical toughness to play the position. He can spin in the box and play in the box and play in the deep part of the field. He judges the ball extremely well. He’s bright, he’s intelligent, and he can get in and out of the chase.”

Junior safety Josh Evans: “[He] has certainly been another guy that’s shown that he can do that.”

Redshirt freshman safety Josh Shaw: “[He] is certainly a guy who I think can do that, but he’s got to do it more consistently.

Sophomore cornerback Jaylen Watkins: “[He] is a young man we played at corner and safety in the spring and I think can give us a little position multiplicity in what he can do.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Florida will be holding split-squad practices on the first few days of camp in order “to let younger players have a better opportunity to learn.” NCAA rules state that players can only practice once per day over the course of the first five days of practice. Therefore, Muschamp will have the older players practice early and plans to film them. The younger players will then watch the film and go out in the afternoon and practice. “Now they’re able to, at least for two practices, get a better idea of what is going to be expected on the practice field,” he said. Monday is the team’s first day as a full unit.

» On how younger players can also be leaders: “I’m not really worried about looking for senior leadership. You can be a sophomore, you can be a freshman and be a great leader. I’ve seen guys do that – positively affect the organization with how they play and how they approach things every day. We’ve got some guys, especially that sophomore class, that we’re counting on being very productive players and they need to be really good leaders on top of that.”

» On not allowing assistant coaches to speak to the media yet: “I do think it’s important right now that there’s one message for our football team, and I’m the one that knows that the best.”

» On having an open doors policy with former Gators: “I have open arms for every letterman that comes back here. They are welcome to come to any practices; it’s not closed to them. They can come to every practice if they want to. But when you have guys like Kevin Carter, who was in yesterday, Fred Taylor, Mike Peterson, Tim Tebow, I mean all these guys have come back in the summer. Percy Harvin, the list goes on, of guys that come back anytime so they can talk about their time at Florida and the expectations of playing at Florida. I’ve got a guy on my staff, Terry Jackson and Aubrey Hill, that played at Florida. They understand the expectation of what it takes to be successful here.”

» On that dirty word “potential:” “Potential? That means you really haven’t done anything. God blessed you with an awful lot of ability, you take advantage of it. Guys that get labeled with potential in our program don’t last long.”

» On being ranked No. 23 preseason: “I could care less.”

» On the future of sophomore Trey Burton: “I think he fits very well with what we want to do. He’s going to play what we call the F position. That position is going to be a full back, it’s going to be a slot receiver, it’s going to be a match-up on a linebacker outside, and it’s going to motion and create leverage in the run and pass game. He’s going to do so many things for us. He’s a guy that is going to be catching the football, he’s going to be blocking, he’s going to be carrying it. He was a short-yardage situation guy in the spring that was probably our best short yardage back. It is kind of limitless what he’s going to be doing in our offense.”

» Muschamp noted that replacing Chas Henry at punter will be difficult but that freshman Kyle Christy has the inside leg on the job. “[He’s] a young man that came in mid-year, very excited about him,” he said. Muschamp also mentioned, however, that senior David Lerner would have a fair shot at the gig.

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Recapping Florida’s 2011 Friday Night Lights

Mixing pomp and circumstance with football drills and relationship building, the Florida Gators use their annual Friday Night Lights camp at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as both a recruiting tool and means of evaluating some of the best high school football players in the country. The Gators often pull in some recruits over the FNL weekend but also find diamonds in the rough as recruits get coached up while getting to know each other.

The Swamp will once again filled with some of the top young talent in the nation on July 22, so much so that covering every player that plans to step on the field is a near impossibility. Below is a recap of the 2011 event which includes much of what was learned Friday evening in Gainesville, FL.

» Florida did not receive any commitments at the event, though that is not necessarily a negative. The Gators’ 15-member recruiting class is believed to be slightly larger already with a few silent commits in the fold. Most importantly, Florida’s new coaching staff made a positive impression on those in attendance and may have set themselves up for some big names to give their respective pledges in the near future.

» Five-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs (Olney, MD) was the standout performer, hauling in catches, showcasing his athleticism and even performing a few Gator Chomps after scoring a touchdown. The No. 2 wide receiver in the 2012 class, No. 8 overall prospect and No. 1 player in his state, Diggs has 36 offers but has not narrowed his choices down yet. Former high school teammates with Gators redshirt junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins, Diggs stayed in Gainesville overnight and will get more personal time with coaches on Saturday. “It was a big stage out there tonight,” he told The Gainesville Sun. “I didn’t come down here for no reason. I had a feeling about Florida. I just knew it was going to be live, and that’s what I love.”

» Florida’s current commitments and players did what they could to help sway recruits to the Orange & Blue throughout the course of the evening. Most notable among them was sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell, who was in the ear of four-star defensive end Jordan Jenkins (Hamilton, GA) all night long. The two reportedly got along great and developed a solid relationship at the event.

» Gators defensive coaches spent a ton of time with four-star defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (Forest City, NC), sticking by his side until he left the field and eventually headed home. Close friends with recent three-star safety commit Rhaheim Ledbetter (Boiling Springs, NC) and top Florida target four-star DE Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, NC), Watkins has spoken with the duo about all playing college together. He is also seriously considering South Carolina and Clemson.

» Though he did make it down to Gainesville, five-star Florida State DE commit Dante Fowler, Jr. (St. Petersburg, FL) remains solid to UF’s rival. He has expressed interest in Florida lately even though his father has no desire to see him wearing the Orange & Blue. The Gators are nevertheless pursuing Fowler in hopes of turning him, but he reiterated on Friday that his commitment to FSU is solid as of right now.

» Former Florida players in attendance included running back Fred Taylor, quarterback Chris Leak and wide receivers Jemalle Cornelius and Jacquez Green. Taylor, who visited with his son, 2013 RB prospect Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, FL), served as a coach at the camp and was excited to finally bring his son to The Swamp. Cornelius and Green visited with players from the high schools they coach at and also had a good time. The younger Taylor showcased good hands and solid agility at the event, but it is unknown if the Gators have presented him with an offer yet.

» Five-star athlete Nelson Agholor (Tampa, FL) was planning to visit but ended up cancelling after he received a phone call from the hosts of the ESPN/Nike Gridiron Kings event in Orlando, FL, who asked him to fill in for a player who dropped out. Agholor, who has yet to narrow down his list which may or may not include Florida depending who you talk to, was just one of a few players who did not make it. Three-star cornerback Chris Bivins (Gainesville, FL) also took part in another event, and four-star cornerback Tracy Howard (Miramar, FL) stopped by for a few hours but left before FNL began. Four-star offensive tackle Avery Young (Palm Beach Gardens, FL) was planning on going but simply could not find a ride. He is believed to be a heavy UF lean.

» Having shortened his list to Florida, Southern California and South Carolina, four-star defensive end Tyriq McCord (Tampa, FL) still has a ways to go in his recruitment (he does not plan to make an official announcement until January). Nevertheless, his time in Gainesville was well spent as he was able to continue developing his relationship with the coaches, who hope to earn his commitment as soon as possible McCord is one of the Gators’ top targets going forward.

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The Countdown: Florida Gators roster (69-60)

With the 2010-11 athletic season now in the books and the 2011-12 season about to begin, the focus has shifted from some of the school’s smaller sports to, of course, Florida Gators football. In this new series, OGGOA will take a look at every player of substance on the roster, counting down by jersey number, until the season begins.

68 – Leon Orr (New Port Richey, FL)
Redshirt freshman defensive tackle
6’4” 299 lbs.

Quick Bio: A social & behavioral sciences major, Orr was a four-star recruit coming out of high school who was rated as the No. 8 player in the nation at his position.

2010 Season: Dressed for four games but did not play and took a redshirt. Orr practiced a bit as a tight end and offensive lineman but transitioned back to his natural position as the season went on.

2011 Outlook: Now playing defensive tackle once again, Orr has a shot to see the field in 2011. Head coach Will Muschamp described him as “a bigger body guy that can hold the point inside” and had him listed as the back-up to sophomore DT Dominique Easley on the spring depth chart. However, two veterans were unable to participate in spring practice, and Orr will likely have limited opportunities to make an impact.

67 – Jon Halapio (St. Petersburg, FL)
Redshirt sophomore guard
6’3” 315 lbs.

Quick Bio: Though the mane poking out the back of his helmet makes him easy to spot, Halapio is quickly becoming a lineman that defenders hope to avoid when lining up. A social & behavioral sciences major, he played in three games as a freshman in 2009 but ended up receiving a medical redshirt. Halapio saw time at all five positions on the offensive line in high school.

2010 Season: The Gators’ starting right guard for seven games last year (including four of the final five), he played in 12 games in total and graded out as a Champion against both Kentucky and Georgia. Halapio was named to the 2010 Sporting News All-Freshman Team for his efforts.

2011 Outlook: Unless something changes, Halapio will start at right guard for Florida when the season begins. He has added a few pounds to his frame and was praised by sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell for his work during the spring. “Jon Halapio is a beast, man-child, doing great things on and off the field,” Powell said. “[He’s] just a great guy. You’d never know he’s the type of player he is when you see him off the field. He’s kind of a cuddly guy. On the field, he’s rough – rough.” He also received high acclaim from Muschamp, who said he is also thoroughly impressed with Halapio.

66 – James Wilson (St. Augustine, FL)
Redshirt senior guard
6’3” 325 lbs.

Quick Bio: The No. 2 overall prospect according to Rivals in his recruiting class, Wilson was a five-star recruit who redshirted as a freshman and played in 24 of the Gators’ 28 games from 2008-09, starting four contests. He is a social & behavioral sciences major who is looking to take his talents to the next level in his final collegiate season.

2010 Season: Wilson started at left guard against Miami (OH) but was unable to play in Florida’s final 10 games of 2010 due to a left knee injury.

2011 Outlook: Left off the spring depth chart and called “very limited” by Muschamp while continuing to recover from his knee injury, Wilson’s role in 2011 remains up in the air. With redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison moving to center, the left guard job is available for him to claim but there is plenty of competition he must beat out first.

65 – Tommy Jordan (Ridgefield, CT)
Freshman guard
6’5” 297 lbs.

Quick Bio: A three-star recruit, Jordan was the No. 2 prospect coming out of Connecticut and enrolled during the summer.

2011 Outlook: With plenty of depth at the position, he is a candidate for a redshirt.

64 – Kyle Koehne (Indianapolis, IN)
Redshirt sophomore tackle
6’5” 300 lbs.

Quick Bio: A social & behavioral sciences major like his linemates, Koehne was a three-year starter in high school who left as a three-star recruit. He dressed six times in 2009 but did not see the field.

2010 Season: Though he played in all 13 games, Koehne did so mostly as a member of the field goal unit. He lined up at both tackle and guard on occasion in a reserve role.

2011 Outlook: Slotted as the back-up left tackle on the initial spring depth chart, Koehne will move down to third string once redshirt junior Matt Patchan is declared healthy. He will likely reprise his 2010 role in 2011 unless he can impress enough to move up in the depth chart on the right side.

63 – Trip Thurman (Dover, DE)
Freshman guard
6’6” 302 lbs.

Quick Bio: The top recruit in his state, Thurman was a four-star recruit coming out of high school who also chose to enroll in the summer.

2011 Outlook: Another candidate for a redshirt as a freshman.

60 – William Steinmann (Daytona Beach, FL)
Senior tackle
6’5” 265 lbs.

Quick Bio: A scout player most of his freshman season, the unheralded Steinmann ended up playing against the Citadel in 2008 and saw action in five games in 2009 after suiting up for nearly every contest. He is a political science major who earned a spot on the Fall SEC Academic Honor Roll in 2009 and 2010.

2010 Season: Steinmann participated in 12 of the 13 games, mostly on special teams as a part of the field goal unit.

2011 Outlook: He was listed as the second-team left guard during the spring but will likely only see the field for special teams downs this year.

THE COUNTDOWN: 99-90 | 89-80 | 79-70 | 69-60 | 59-50 | 49-40 |
39-30 | 29-20 | 19-10 | 9-1

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Muschamp evalutes players, team after game

With the Florida Gators first year of spring practice under head coach Will Muschamp coming to a conclusion with the lackluster 2011 Orange & Blue Debut he spoke with the media after Saturday’s activities and gave an injury update, provided some insight on individual players and noted how the team is performing.

INJURY UPDATES

In addition to the long list of players who have been injured throughout spring practice, a few notable names were absent from the game on Saturday. Sophomore athlete Trey Burton, who twisted his ankle at the end of practice last week, “probably could have scrimmaged today had it been a game,” Muschamp said, but instead sat out as a precaution. Freshman wide receiver Javares McRoy, not previously listed on the injury report, had what Muschamp called a “medical procedure with his lung” a week or so ago. He said the situation is not serious, career-threatening or life-threatening but would not go into further detail. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley appeared to hurt himself at the end of the game and looked like he was grabbing his ankle, but Muschamp waved it off. “Easley is fine. Easley got tired,” he said.

PLAYER THOUGHTS

Muschamp wrapped up the spring with thoughts on some of the team’s standout performers both over the last five weeks and on Saturday in particular.

Sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell: “Ronald’s a power player on the edge; he’s a very powerful young man, plays with great effort, plays with great toughness, plays the way we want to play at Florida. I’m very pleased with his effort up until this point.”

Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey: “He’s a good football player. He’s special with the ball in his hands. He’s got tremendous vision. Matt Elam’s a very good open-field tackler; Matt drew wind today on him. That’ll tell you what kind of vision he’s got and how quick he is. We need to get him in space. Also looking forward to his combination with Jeff Demps and getting Jeff back in the fold with football. Chris is a playmaker.”

The other defensive tackles: “We have two very disruptive players in Sharrif [Floyd] and Dominique. Omar Hunter has done a good job. We’re looking forward to getting Jaye Howard back off surgery he had in the spring.”

Redshirt freshman QB Tyler Murphy: “Charlie [Weis] does a nice job of calling things that fit a person’s personality. Tyler’s very good in the pocket movement-creating plays. He’s accurate with the ball in the underneath throws. I think that’s what you saw today. He was accurate with the ball and did a nice job with the pocket movements.”

Freshman QB Jeff Driskel: “Jeff has got all the tools and is going to be a really good football player for the Gators. It’s just going to take some time. Right now he should be going to the prom. He’s going to be a really, really good football player, I think we just need to give him some time to be a good football player right now. He should be a senior in high school.”

Freshman tight end A.C. Leonard: “As he ended the offseason program, he really started to mature and grow up. I’m very proud of where he is right now. He’s doing a nice job academically. He’s a guy that can really help us in the fall as he continues to mature. Another guy that this time of the year is very important for.”

Secondary players: “Matt Elam’s had a great spring. Jeremy Brown’s been very consistent [as has] Cody Riggs. Those would be the three that jump out at me. Really proud of Jaylen Watkins playing two positions – safety and corner – and has shown coverage skills on the edge and also the ability to play the deep part of the field. He has good coverage skills for a safety.” Muschamp also pointed out freshman Josh Evans (“He’s more vocal. He’s a better leader.”), Josh Shaw (“He’s come along and made some plays today.”) and De’Ante Saunders (“He’s a guy that’s going to be a really good player for Florida.”).

QUOTES

Muschamp on the statues:Steve Spurrier, Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel – three great Gators. To honor them the way Jeremy [Foley] and our administration decided to do was a pretty special deal.”

Muschamp on a special guest:Mike Peterson spoke to our football team yesterday; what a phenomenal person. What great passion and emotion he played with and still plays with.”

Muschamp on redshirt senior QB John Brantley’s early incompletions: “We had the first deep ball coming out of the gate there on the first play – that ball should have been caught. Wish Quinton [Dunbar] would have caught that ball. Quinton has made those plays all spring. Very proud of Quinton.”

Muschamp on Brantley being the starter and his competition: “He’s ahead, he’s just…you need to look at the whole body of work. He’s done a nice job. Quarterback to me is no different than any other position in that we’ll have competition in the fall. We need to go compete, and we need to understand that no position is going to be given to anybody on this football team. It is your job to go compete on a championship level every day at the University of Florida.”

Muschamp on what he took away from the spring game: “It’s an opportunity to get better. It’s an opportunity to coach. It’s an opportunity for our team to improve. We’ll watch the film and we’ll see improvements today. That’s the way I approach it.”

Muschamp on his expectations for the spring game: “I don’t really go in for an expectation level of what I think is going to happen. I go out, I want to see the guys compete; I want to see them play fast, and I want to see them play physical. I just want to see great competition and see guys getting after each other, and I think we did for the most part.”

Muschamp on if he is impressed with the talent on the team: “We’ve got some good players at certain positions. We’re not as old as we’d like to be, but that’s what we’ve got. We’re not as deep at some positions as we’d like to be, but that’s what we’ve got. We’re not going to make excuses for anything whether it’s injury or youth. It’s our job to perform at a championship level, and that’s what I expect to do.”

Muschamp on the overall attitude at practice: “Our kids have really bought into what we want to accomplish and what we want to do. I’ve been very pleased with their progress as far as that’s concerned.”

Brantley on the spring: “All around we made a lot of progress this spring. We’re going to be OK.”

Brantley on the Orange & Blue Debut: “It’s just another practice. It’s just another opportunity for us to go out there and get better. We’ve had a good spring. We’ve progressed very well. Today was another day and we’re just going to keep building off that.”

Brantley on Murphy and Driskel: “I think they played great. They work really hard. They definitely got this offense down just like everyone else has. They’ve had a great spring, and they’ve progressed since day one. Tyler can throw that ball on the run pretty good. They both have a lot of mobility.”

Brantley on Rainey: “He’s definitely matured here the last two years. He’s had a huge impact being a leader. He’s had one of the best springs out of everybody. I hope he builds off it, and I think he will. He’s going to be a great player.”

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2011 Orange & Blue Debut – Gameday Preview

Event: 2011 Orange & Blue Debut – Florida Gators spring football
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 88,548]
Time: 12:00 p.m. (EST)

TV: Sun Sports

Online Video: —–>

Live Updates: @OnlyGators Reference: Roster | Schedule 2010: Blue 27, Orange 24

Radio appearance: Adam Silverstein will be previewing the Florida Gators’ spring game Saturday on Sirius-122/XM-143 College Sports Nation at approximately 11 a.m. Tune in.

EVENT INFORMATION

» Gator Walk: North side of stadium, exterior, 9:30 a.m. start
» Parking: The following parking locations are available first-come, first-serve for fans wishing to attend the game – O’Connell Center garage, O’Connell Center lot (disabled), Commuter Lot (Lemerand Dr.) with shuttle
» Heisman Statue Ceremony: UF will unveil three statues of the school’s Heisman Trophy winners – Steve Spurrier (1966), Danny Wuerffel (1996) and Tim Tebow (2007) – on the westside of the stadium at halftime of the game near the skybox entrance. Those inside the stadium will not be allowed to exit for the ceremony but will be able to watch the unveiling live inside The Swamp after watching a brief video introduction. Spurrier, Wuerffel and Tebow will all provide remarks to the crowd after the unveiling, though only Wuerffel and Tebow are expected to be in attendance.
» Former Gators in attendance: QB Tebow, QB Wuerffel, LB Mike Peterson, RB Fred Taylor, C Maurkice & Mike Pouncey, WR Riley Cooper, WR David Nelson, LB Brandon Spikes, DE Carlos Dunlap, DB Dorian Munroe, DE Jarvis Moss, DT Joe Cohen, RB Kesthan Moore, etc.
» Recruits in attendance (List courtesy of InsideTheGators.com): LB Jeremi Powell (commit), RB Matt Jones (commit), LB Tyriq McCord, OT Patrick Miller, OT Avery Young, DE Jelani Hamilton, ATH Angelo Jean-Louis, ATH Amos Leggett, ATH Nelson Agholor, LB Noor Davis, OL Evan Goodman, ATH Marcus Maye, DT Korren Kirven, TE Kurt Freitag, DE Jhaustin Thomas, LB Tashon Whitehurst, S Ladarion Young, LB Trey Johnson (2013), RB Kelvin Taylor (2013), LB Leon McQuay III (2013), etc.

Additional information including the game format, injury report, team notes and who to keep an eye on all are available…after the break!
Continue Reading » 2011 Orange & Blue Debut – Gameday Preview

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4/4: Easley shining as defense beings to solidify

With the Florida Gators 2011 spring practice in full swing, a number of the team’s defensive players were made available to the media to begin the fourth week of action. The defensive front seven seemed like a more cohesive unit than they were one year ago, as evidenced by some of the news and quotes provided on Monday.

EASLEY BECOMING EXPLOSIVE

Asked to pick a defensive teammate shining this spring, everyone pointed to sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who barely played last year and was in the dog house due to alleged attitude and personal problems. The story is quite the opposite this season, with players raving about how dominant he has been coming off the line.

“This defensive line I can definitely say is a big difference from last year. Easley – that’s probably the fastest I’ve ever seen somebody get off the ball,” junior linebacker Jon Bostic said. “As soon as the center says ‘hut,’ Jon Harrison is two yards in the backfield. His get-off is crazy. Sometimes when you pause the film and just look, every other defensive lineman is taking half a step or one step and he’s taken two or three.”

Sophomore buck LB Ronald Powell concurred. “Easley is so explosive off the ball. His get-off is just ridiculous,” he said. “It makes it hard for guys to block him because by the time they snap the ball and get ready for the block, he’s already past them.”

Not only has Easley’s play improved, his attitude has as well. Part of the reason he is still wearing the orange and blue is because his classmates picked him up when he was down. “I was one of the guys that was sticking with him, talking to him,” Powell said of Easley’s struggles in 2010. “Coming into this thing, we all chose to come here together, so we decided to stay here together.”

Fellow sophomore DT Sharrif Floyd deferred the attitude talk but spoke about Easley’s ability on the field. “Maturity-wise, I guess that’s a good question for him,” he said. “On the field he takes care of his stuff and he’s doing a great job of firing off the ball. He’s gotten more explosive than last year.” He also said that the duo can cause “a lot of problems” if they work at it. “He’s got that get-off-the-ball penetration, and I’ve got the power. [It’s a] great combination, going to cause a lot of havoc,” he said.

OFFENSE TOUGH TO DEFEND

The Gators’ defense may be ahead of the offense at this point, but Bositc said Monday that doesn’t mean they aren’t giving his unit fits during practice. “Just all the different looks they’re giving us. They run a lot of different combination routes with the receivers, the way they’re running routes,” he said. “[It] is actually helping us out as a defense [because] we may need to change this, may need to change that.”

Floyd believes the offensive line as a whole is “starting to come together more” even though they are dealing with a massive amount of injuries. Powell agreed, pointing out two players in particular who impress him on a day-to-day basis. “Jon Halapio is a beast, man-child, doing great things on and off the field,” Powell said. “[He’s] just a great guy. You’d never know he’s the type of player he is when you see him off the field. He’s kind of a cuddly guy. On the field, he’s rough – rough. […] Chaz Green is a great player. Definitely going to be an outstanding tackle for the Gators.”

DEFENSE MORE DETAILED BUT ALSO MORE FUN

For a young group of players, having to learn a brand new defense from the ground up can be difficult. Florida’s front seven seem to be adapting to it well overall.

“I wouldn’t say the concepts are too hard, it’s just really a lot of plays – a lot more plays than in the past,” Bostic said before discussing the style of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. “I like it. I know a lot of the younger guys like it, too,” he added. “He sits down and makes sure you understand the concepts and what’s going on out there on the field. He talks everything through with you.”

Powell shared Bostic’s opinions about the coaching staff’s teaching methods. “I love the way the coaches are getting after us and making us better,” he said. “If you want to be great, you got to be pushed.” He also commented about his new hybrid position on the defense. “I love it. I think it’s good for me, definitely gives me an opportunity to make some good plays and do big things for the Gators this year.”

With such limited time in the spring, Floyd realizes what matters now is doing the best they can on a practice-by-practice basis. “We’re making great progress and learning more each day, just getting better and doing what we can do,” he said.

QUOTES

Easley on his struggles in 2010*: “I was just a freshman going through a phase. I’m over it now and I’m going on to the season. […] Almost every freshman gets homesick. I went through it. Now, this is my home.”

Easley on what the team is trying to accomplish*: “We’re playing as a team. Everybody wants one goal – to win a national championship. Everyone is striving for one thing. That’s what you want on a team.”

Easley on if he was going to transfer*: “I never thought different. I never thought I was going anywhere else.”

Powell on freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel’s personality: “He’s a funny dude – real funny. Definitely serious about his plays and his books and stuff like that, but he’s real funny off the field.”

Powell on the defense coming together: “I knew a lot of these guys had it in them. It was just a matter of when we were going to start showing our talent.”

Powell on the best hit he’s seen this spring:Matt Elam came down and hit Mack Brown – one of the biggest hits I’ve seen.”

Quotes marked with * are courtesy of The Gainesville Sun.

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3/28: Gators experience offensive shake-ups

With the Florida Gators 2011 spring practice now in full swing, the school made a number of the team’s players available to the media as the third week of action began on Monday. There was a noticeable excitement in the air about the possibilities in Florida’s new offense under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, as evidenced by some of the notable news and quotes provided during the press sessions.

A NEW MAN IN THE MIDDLE

Known as one of the team’s most versatile lineman, redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison has a chance to prove that moniker is true after learning that he has been moved to center and will compete for the starting job with redshirt junior Sam Robey. “[I’m] playing center this year,” he said on Monday. “It’s going real good. It’s a big change from left guard, but I’m enjoying it so far and I’m just going to work at it all spring.”

Harrison, who has not manned the middle since his freshman year of high school, said coaches did not give him any specific reasoning for the move, noting that it was “for the betterment of the team” and that he was “shocked but…excited at the same time.”

With the ball now in his hands, Harrison understands that he has to shoulder additional responsibility from this point forward. “I have to learn the calls. Especially with this new offense and everything, I’m just adjusting to all these calls,” he said. “The center is actually required to make the IDs now and everything, so I’m getting used to that.”

OFFENSIVE LINE STILL ADJUSTING

As with any unit that loses the majority of its starters to graduation and the NFL Draft, Florida’s offensive line is still trying to find its identity. Harrison thinks the unit will come together rather quickly. “Offense as a whole, we’re looking real good. We’re going to be amazing,” he said. “I feel like this is just all going to mesh together as soon as we’re used to playing with each other and everything, especially with the young O-line. […] We’re young, but we worked together as the second string, a lot of us. So now we’re just bringing all that together on the first string,” he said.

Redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio said that the schemes the offensive linemen are being taught are completely different from a year ago, something that is taking some getting used to. “Everything from point A to point B – blocking and everything – everything is different from last year,” he said. “Our offensive line coach [Frank Verducci] is not only teaching us techniques, now we’re learning the whole entire football play. We got to know what the quarterback is thinking, running back is thinking, wide receiver is thinking. We’re not just thinking about ourselves and our blocking schemes; we’ve got to know what everyone else is doing on the field.”

RAVING FOR RAINEY

No matter who you ask about the Gators’ offense these days, you will hear one thing for certain: redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey is having an awesome spring. Head coach Will Muschamp has said so on numerous occasions, and the guys blocking for him are coming to the same conclusion.

“Our offense really fits [Rainey] because he’s got so much speed,” redshirt freshman tackle Chaz Green said. “We got some things that can put him in some one-on-one match-ups, get him in some space. It will be good, with his speed, to use his athletic ability.”

Harrison and Halapio both agreed. “Chris Rainey’s doing real well in this offense,” the former said. “He’s so fast. He’s done real good from last year. His cuts are more sweet. His routes are precise. He’s just a good football player right now,” the latter added.

LEADERS EMERGING

With any change in regime and departure of a number of seniors comes a leadership void. Halapio noted how different the team is now “because we don’t have [Tim] Tebow, [Brandon] Spikes and the Pounceys.” He went out of his way to point out a few guys who are doing their best to lead the way. Offensively, Halapio said himself, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley and junior tackle Xavier Nixon are leading the way, while sophomores buck linebacker Ronald Powell and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd are carrying the load on defense.

SECONDARY COMING TOGETHER

Both of Florida’s starting safeties departed in 2010, leaving sophomore Matt Elam as the most experienced valve in the defensive backfield. As part of his new responsibilities, he is slowly learning how to step up and be someone his teammates can count on. “There’s a lot of things I need to work on just being a leader. I’m not used to being vocal and everything like that,” he said. “I might have to take on that role and start doing that, being more vocal and being more of a leader, because I’m not used to that.”

Elam also said that he feels comfortable with the new staff and is happy that Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn are allowing him to blitz. “I love Muschamp. He’s a cool man. I’m learning a lot from him. I’m loving the coaching right now,” he said.

Redshirt senior cornerback Moses Jenkins, who OGGOA has been keeping tabs on since the website began, spoke about getting a new lease on his college career with a sixth year of eligibility. “I worked hard, came out the first game and injured myself,” he said of hurting his elbow in 2010 after missing most of 2009 due to a head injury. “It was kind of tough, but it’s football. Injuries happen and you’ve got to move forward.”

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3/21: Gators excited about defensive possibilities

With the Florida Gators starting spring practice for the 2011 season last Wednesday, the school made a number of the team’s defense players available to the media as the second week of action began on Monday. There was a noticeable excitement in the air about the possibilities in Florida’s new defense under head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, as evidenced by some of the notable news and quotes provided during the press sessions.

SOPHOMORES FINALLY ADJUSTED

Though sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd seemed to adjust well in 2010, the same cannot be said for linebacker/defensive end Ronald Powell and DT Dominique Easley. Powell buckled down and got more opportunities to see the field later in the year, but Easley appeared to be a problem off the field who needed to get his head on straight and get his mind in the game. Months later, all seems well with the trio of five-star players who are ready and focused to compete in 2011.

“I don’t think it was a case of us not being focused last year,” Floyd said. “New coming into a program, fresh out of high school, we had to get adjusted to things and I think we all got the gist of it.” He noted that, after the season was over, everything came together for the group. With Floyd improving his game and Powell happy in the new system (see below), the only question that remains is Easley’s level of dedication. He was not made available on Monday, and Floyd deflected questions about him when asked.

“He’s my roommate; he’s my brother. I take care of him; he takes care of me. He looks after me; I look after him,” he said, before responding to whether or not Easley is completely on board this year. “That’s a question for him. I know he’s a lot more focused than last year. He’s seeing the big picture now.”

POWELL, FLOYD MAKING STRIDES

Speaking of Powell and Floyd, both players are going to be counted on to have a major impact on the defense in 2011. Powell is already noticing the differences and is excited about the possibilities. “It’s a great fit for me. A great fit. Dan Quinn and Bryant Young, they’re great coaches. The system that they’re running is a great fit,” he said. “I’m loving it. Loving it. It’s more freedom. You don’t have to have your hand in the ground all the time. You can stand up. It’s kind of my choice.” Powell, playing buck linebacker, will have options of standing up, putting his hand down, dropping or rushing; this will allow him to take advantage of his athleticism to cover the field and cause maximum damage.

Like his teammate, Floyd has cut out poor habits (such as standing up too high, not being physical enough and not using his hands correctly) and is more focused on doing what it takes to succeed. “I had a lot of bad tendencies last year,” he said. “That was my fault, obviously. Listening to [Young] and getting in his ear, wanting to learn what he knows – that’s helping me a lot more play with my hands and stay lower, things like that.”

THOUGHTS ON THE NEW DEFENSE

Junior LB Jon Bostic: “The main thing with this defense is [that it’s] backwards and forwards. If you play Mike, you play Will. A guy may motion across; you can go from being the Mike to the Will. A lot of the stuff – you got to know everything.”

Senior DE William Green: “I like it a lot. I’m really excited about what we’re doing.”

Redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins: “I like it a lot. It seems like it really frees up the linebackers and allows us to run a little bit. […] We’re going to be the same defense that we’ve always been at Florida. We’re going to run, hit hard, keep being relentless and be aggressive. That’s kind of how we’ve always been; that’s not going to be a difference.”

Redshirt junior DE/LB Lerentee McCray*: “I love the new defense. You’ve just got to see it on the field. It’s a different concept, a different style of defense.”

QUOTES

Bostic on playing for his third defensive coordinator: “I like it because I’m actually getting to learn different types of defenses, how different coaches coach different defenses. It’s not really a change to me; I kind of see it as another learning aspect.”

Bostic on how the team is progressing: “Everybody’s picking up. It’s going pretty fast, but everybody’s helping each other out. We’re trying to talk a lot more out there than we did. Everybody’s got to help everybody.”

Green on Quinn: “I like him a lot. He’s a real good technician guy. He’s a real good high-energy guy, and a real good person, too. I’m enjoying the coaches a lot.”

Green on stepping up to be a leader: “I feel like I’m four years older than everybody out there. It’s time to be an example for all the young guys. This is my time to step up and really help the team.”

McCray on playing the buck position*: “It’s helping my career. It’s easy to adjust to both [linebacker and defensive end]. I like it. It gives me the opportunity to do the things a linebacker does, and rush and drop into coverage. I like playing it.”

Redshirt freshman Gerald Christian on moving to linebacker^: “At first I didn’t know why, but they told me it’s the best fit for the team. They need big bodies playing linebacker, so they wanted to try me out there. I’m No. 1 on the depth chart right now, but I’ve still got to earn the position. Nothing’s set in stone, but I feel like I’m going to bust my butt every day.”

Attribution: Quotes without marks were acquired by OGGOA. Those marked with * are courtesy of The Gainesville Sun, and those with a ^ are courtesy of the Palm Beach Post.

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